I couldn’t get out of bed, so I went for a walk.
There weren’t a lot of people in Emergency. An old lady kept rubbing her breast. A man staggered up to triage and asked the nurse out on a date. She pressed a button and he vanished. I thought, I could use one of those.
“Have you been drinking?” the nurse asked me.
I was having trouble putting the failure of my life into words.
“Take a seat,” she said at last.
I waited two hours, three hours. The room really filled up.
I hadn’t realized I was wearing two different colored socks.
After four hours, I got up.
“What are you doing tonight?” a man asked the triage nurse as I walked out the door.
There’s a park across from my apartment. You can walk there and watch the prostitutes. One pretends to talk on the pay phone in the middle of the park. If a man approaches her, she hangs up. I’ve never once walked past when she wasn’t on the phone.
I go to the park when I’m depressed because I don’t care about the danger.
“You wanna buy a knife?” said a voice.
I looked up. A young guy was holding out a hunting knife.
“Okay,” I said.
I pulled out my wallet. The young guy grabbed my wallet and took off.
The prostitute was watching me. I approached her. She hung up the phone.
“Did you see that?” I asked her.
She thought for a long time.
“No,” she said.
She picked the receiver back up.
“I love you too, Mom,” I heard her say, as I walked away.
The funny thing about being depressed is that you forget everything that was important to you. Work. Hobbies. Friends. Sex. They all float away from you like helium balloons. For a while, you wonder where they’re going and when they’ll ever come down. Then you just don’t care.
I guess it isn’t that funny.
It was a nine-month wait, I found out, to see a psychiatrist. I wondered how I’d survive. Someone recommended a drop-in center where you could talk to volunteers. They weren’t qualified, but they were good listeners.
“There’s no one here right now,” said the lady at the desk. “But if you’d like to watch the video, I can put it on.”
I followed her to the lounge. She put a cassette tape into a VCR. I hadn’t seen a cassette tape or a VCR in years. I almost laughed.
“You think it’s hopeless,” said the woman on the screen. “But our love is brighter than the stars, Gerome.”
“What is this?” I asked.
“It’s therapeutic,” said the woman, on her way out of the lounge.
“I thought about ending it all. Then, Beverly, I remembered your loveliness.”
After a few minutes, I pressed eject. The label on the tape said:
Melodramas for Depressed Persons, Cassette One
I laughed. I felt a bit better.
It was Friday night. The bars were all busy.
Emergency was busy. There was a lineup out the door.
“Hey buddy, can you help a guy out?”
“I’m a writer,” I said.
He kept walking.
It was just after midnight when I got a room. A hairy doctor came in.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
I tried explaining it.
“Do you hear voices?” he said.
“Just yours,” I said.
He shook his head.
“That’s not enough.”
He popped some gum into his mouth. He disappeared.
I thought, I could use some of that.
Pills are unpredictable. Cutting your wrists is barbaric.
I jumped off a bridge.
A lot of people jump off the Millennial Bridge. It’s so high that when people hit the water, their spines shatter. They don’t even have to worry about drowning. I thought that was a plus.
I climbed onto the cement column and looked around.
I had a lot of memories. I just couldn’t remember them.
I looked down at the water.
“What’s up?” said the policeman. He didn’t get too close.
“I know things seem bad right now but it’s not as bad as you think.”
“Why don’t you come back down?”
“Don’t do something you’ll regret.”
I smiled. Maybe I’d regret jumping to my death.
“You’ve got a lot to live for, probably.”
“You want to tell me about it?”
“Don’t do something you’ll regret,” he said again.
The funny thing is, when I hit the water, I didn’t die. I broke every vertebrae, I think, and my left arm. But I paddled with my right arm long enough for the rescuers to get to me. I just did it automatically, like a cat. I wasn’t thinking.
I was in the hospital for three months. Since I was there anyway they gave me drugs for my depression.
At first I didn’t feel anything, but then I felt amazing. I started to laugh more. When I laughed too much they cut back. “It takes a while to get the right balance,” someone said.
When they felt I was balanced enough, they gave my clothes back. Then they sent me home.
“This is the end,” said the woman on the cassette.
“No,” said the man. “This is the beginning—of a glorious new life of love.”
I laughed. It really was therapeutic.
I was walking in the park one afternoon. I was feeling a lot better now. I carried a knife for self-defense.
The prostitute was on the phone.
I thought, Maybe I was pessimistic. Maybe it was the depression talking. That girl might really be talking to her mother. And she just loves her that much.
You never know.
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” I hear her say, as I walked on.
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I love the imagery of the cassette. It’s funny and sad at the same time. I also really like the wit in this piece. It’s so sharp and the piece says a lot with few words.
Terrific story! I’m going to share this with my students.